Cults are so hot right now. From the dirty-legged Manson girls in Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood to the sunshine-drenched prairie folk of Midsommar, there’s a hunger to know and better understand what it is that lures people to hive-mind behavior. But maybe the best approach is a backwards one. Maybe it’s easiest to see how it happens after it’s over. But is it ever really over? Are you ever fully deprogrammed after living in a cult? That’s the question that motivates Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s The Lodge, a creepy, wintery horror film about a former cult member trapped in an isolated cabin with her snotty stepchildren, whose past threatens to overwhelm her present after a series of unfortunate events rekindle long-buried guilt and resentment.
Riley Keough stars as Grace, a woman living in the shadow of her stepchildren’s dead mother, Laura (Alicia Silverstone). Laura killed herself when her husband Richard (Richard Armitage) left her for Grace, which doesn’t bode well for her approval rating. The kids–Aidan (Jaeden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh)–despise Grace, blame her for Laura’s death, and regard her with an icy distance. When the family goes on a trip to their family cabin around Christmastime–an attempt to bond themselves together in Laura’s absence–shit really starts hitting the fan. Grace keeps messing up; she accidentally wears Laura’s hat, her medication starts acting up, and soon she’s left alone with the kids when Richard has to attend to business matters out of town. Things are fine at first–the trio make food, play outside, watch movies together–but one morning Grace wakes up to find that the power is out, the food is gone, and all of her belongings are missing. The kids swear it isn’t a prank, that their stuff is gone too, and that all of them are victims of some sort of robbery.
As you can probably imagine, Grace doesn’t really deal well with the intense isolation. With her meds missing, her mind starts to wander. The kids grow increasingly strange, wondering if maybe they’re all dead, and soon Grace is experiencing visions, giving into her cabin fever, and acting increasingly more erratic. But is there actually a supernatural element going on, or is this all the work of some clever pranking? Early on in the film, the kids Google Grace and find that she was formerly a member of an Evangelical death cult. So maybe they’re simply screwing with her. Or maybe Laura’s ghost is pulling the strings from beyond, taunting Grace with the Catholic totems littered through the cabin. Whatever the case, it’s clear Grace isn’t equipped to handle the goings on, and soon things grow dire.
The Lodge is going to suffer greatly from Hereditary comparisons, even though they were made around the same time. (The Lodge is a NEON production and has a 2020 release date). Both are films about mother figures dealing with childhood trauma. Both are eerily vacant, hinged on either mental superlatives or something supernatural. Both prominently feature dollhouses that may or may not foretell events in the film. But in their DNA these are two very different films, with The Lodge actually better resembling Franz and Fiala’s previous film, Goodnight Mommy, which was also about creepy children in an isolated, architecturally impressive house. If there’s one major criticism of The Lodge, it’s how closely it mirrors whole sequences and themes from its predecessor, to the point that you have to wonder what else Franz and Fiala have to say.
But ultimately, The Lodge manages to forge its own identity, and it’s a terrific one. This is one of the better-constructed horror films of late, feeling both dense in story and sparse in setting, Keough is excellent in the lead role, living her life at a comfortable distance from reality, just unknowable enough to be fascinating. The depths of her cultish involvement are never fully articulated, but merely hinted at with visions–of the titular lodge, of faces telling her to “repent”–adding a layer of creepy mystery. What happened to Grace? What will happen to Grace? The film loves its ambiguity, and filling in the blanks is part of the ride. Just be careful where you peek.
4 out of 5.
Header Image Credit: NEON